New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has ordered the immediate release of 191 inmates from the crisis-stricken Rikers Island correctional facility, saying that the individuals in question had served their debt to society but had ended up back in prison due to “technical” parole violations.
Hochul made the announcement at a Sept. 17 event at which she signed the Less Is More: Community Supervision and Revocation Reform Act into law, a criminal justice reform measure meant to reduce instances of parolees being reincarcerated for what she described as “technical violations” of parole conditions, such as missing curfew or failing a drug test.
“All too often, in this state particularly, parole becomes a ticket back into jail because of very technical violations. Someone was caught with a drink, or using a substance, or missing … an appointment. We call these technical violations, and what it does is it lands people back in a place that they finally paid their debt to and were released from,” Hochul said at the signing, noting that around 65 percent of people who are returned to prison for parole violations fall into the “technical” category.
While the Less Is More Act doesn’t go into effect until March 2022, Hochul said she was ordering the immediate release of the nearly 200 Rikers Island inmates under the provisions of the new law.
“I believe that we also have to take some very swift action and take it right now. So the Board of Parole, under my direction, will have 191 people released today,” she said. “They have served their sentences under the dictates of the new Less Is More, but they shouldn’t have to wait until the enactment date.”
Other measures introduced by the legislation include requiring speedy adjudicatory hearings and an opportunity for parolees to earn credits for every 30-day period in which they don’t violate a condition of supervised release, which will go toward reducing their period of parole.
While backers of the Less Is More Act say putting people in prison for technical parole violations is costly and fuels recidivism, Republicans in the state legislature have accused Democrats of focusing more on individuals who commit crimes rather than their victims.
Donna Hylton, a former Rikers Island inmate and founder of the advocacy group A Little Piece of Light, praised the measure.
“I am thrilled today has arrived,” Hylton said in a statement. “It is a victory for the women who have suffered behind bars for small parole missteps.”
New York state Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who plans to run for the office of governor, criticized Hochul’s decision to sign the bill and proceed with releasing inmates on its basis.
“Even months before this new law takes effect, Hochul has criminals now pouring out of Rikers Island, and it’s clear the madness isn’t ending anytime soon,” Zeldin said in a statement, in which he called for “repealing cashless bail, keeping qualified immunity, standing up for law enforcement, and restoring a balance of power in Albany.”
The release of those on Rikers Island comes as the correctional complex grapples with staffing shortages, poor conditions, and restrictions placed on guards, with city authorities scrambling to bring in more officers, reduce the inmate population, and speed up repairs.